After the rainiest November on record in Seattle (15+ inches in one month), I was anticipating some sun and warmth during my first trip to Australia in December. Royal Australian Air Force members of the Wedgetail program had suggested that I contact Peter Temple, who had previously worked on Wedgetail in Seattle, but was now back living in the Adelaide, South Australia area.
I wrote to Peter, inquiring about soaring in South Australia, since I had two weeks of work planned, with a weekend free in the Adelaide area. I had heard of great soaring conditions at Waikerie, and asked Peter for suggestions. Peter was quick to respond to my e-mail introduction, and suggested that I visit the Adelaide Soaring Club's operation at Gawler Aerodrome, about 30 minutes north of Adelaide, instead of the longer drive out to Waikerie.
When I arrived via Qantas late Friday evening, it was still in the low 90's, with warmer weather forecast for Saturday, including a forecast for strong soaring conditions. It looked like my timing was going to be great, I just hoped to have a checkout opportunity with all the expected fliers on such a great day.
I arrived at Gawler just after 10:00 AM, under clear blue skies and temperatures rapidly climbing through the mid-90's. I found out that Peter Temple had just launched, and was attempting a 1,000 km out-and-return in his DG-200. I was welcomed into the Adelaide Soaring Club's clubhouse, and got introduced to Peter Phillips, one of the two duty instructors for the day. Peter said that no students had shown up due to the heat, but soaring conditions looked great. We conducted a local operating rules review, checked local maps, and pre-flighted one of the club's Grob 103s for a checkout flight. I've flown G-103s many times, but saw that this one, as well as most of the club sailplanes, had one extra piece of equipment. All were equipped with a FLARM anti-collision device, which has already become very popular in Europe for traffic awareness and increased safety.
As we readied for launch, the blue sky started to become dotted with cumulus clouds, putting smiles on both of our faces. We were eager to launch and climb out of the heat, which eventually hit 42 degrees C (107 degrees F) on the ground!
I launched behind the Pawnee towplane, adjusting myself into the Australian-standard low tow position, which I'd only flown before when ferrying long distances. The vario registered over 1000 FPM as we quickly climbed through 2000' AGL over the field, so I released low, expecting a strong thermal, and I wasn't disappointed. I quickly climbed to 7000' over the field, and then I headed north while Peter described the local area. The cumulus clouds were rapidly building, flattening out and dissipating, and the lift fell in tune. I'd enter under a cloud and be greeted with an awesome push upward at over 1000 feet per minute, with the vario pegged at the top. I quickly got above 10,000' as we headed north past the Barossa Valley wine region. In the blue area between cu's, the sink was just as bad, registering 8-900' FPM down at times!
Reaching near cloudbase at 12,800', we continued to explore to the north, with stupendous views of Gulf St. Vincent to the west. Cruising under the clouds above 10,000' for nearly two hours, Peter and I both enjoyed the cool conditions after the heat down low. From our perch on high, Peter was able to give me an excellent tour of the area, as we flew a mini cross-country to the north and east of Gawler.
As I purposely flew in blue areas to descend, Peter suggested a few spins to lose altitude. I flew a number of clearing turns, then initiated three spin series, at 5300'. The lift was still so strong in the area, that after the third spin series, we were back up at 7000'! Even Peter was impressed with how great the conditions had become. After 2.3 hours, I landed on runway 31 at Gawler, feeling again the 100+ degree temperatures as we opened our canopies.
Peter Temple was making excellent use of the great soaring conditions, and had an outstanding day in his DG-200, completing a 1017 km out and return to Farina, Australia. On his 500 km return home, Peter was able to average 160 km/hr, while cruising above 17000' during the return. It looks like Peter may have broken or set three Australian records with that amazing flight.
After landing, I was able to savor great Australian hospitality, as I was invited to attend the Adelaide Soaring Club's Christmas party and dinner. It was a very enjoyable evening discussing the multiple outstanding flights accomplished out of Gawler that day.
After landing and debriefing, Peter Phillips signed me off for club operations, including flight in the club's single seat Discus. But that will be another story...